The conspicuous absence of the social sector

(in this election’s manifestos)

By Leah Davis 25 November 2019

Over the past weeks we have seen the flurry of political parties launching their manifestos, setting out their proposals for what they will do if they are the ones to win over a sceptical electorate and form the next government.

Brexit, the NHS and policing all feature heavily, as expected.

But what of the charity sector? The sector that is currently providing around £12 billion of public services on behalf of the government. The sector which supports and advocates for all kinds of different people and communities around the country. Unfortunately the manifestos are thin on the ground, with only fleeting references. And some parties appear to suggest that the role of charities will be scaled back.

That’s not to say the charity sector has totally failed to make its mark. Commitments to tackling homelessness, increasing social prescribing and at the very least maintaining overseas aid budgets are areas that charities have campaigned on and are featured in many of the manifestos.

But the parties’ failure to recognise the critical role of charities in delivering many public services, means the prospective new governments are missing an opportunity to make the relationship between the social sector and government work much better. As we enter an election that will be shaped, at least in part, by those communities that have been branded as ‘left behind’, this missed opportunity becomes even starker.

At NPC we have worked tirelessly for over fifteen years to increase the impact of the social sector.

Our work with hundreds of charities and funders has highlighted the power of openness in making the money that is put into the sector work even better for the causes and people they work  for. This openness can apply to the data that is shared between government and charities on which programmes and interventions work – and which don’t. It can also apply to which parts of the country philanthropic funders and foundations are spending their money, or to decision-making, including how government can best target its funding.

So this week we have published NPC’s view on how a new government can make openness and improving charity impact a reality.

And government can start by getting its own house in order.

It can make its own data far more transparent to help charities, philanthropists and foundations understand where funding is used most effectively. Initiatives like the Justice Data Lab which uses government crime data to let charities get an accurate long-term picture on the impact they are having on reoffending, shows how data can show what works. Government could easily build on this, using administrative data already collected, especially in employment, but also in education and health to develop more Data Labs.

Government could also use the Social Value Act to make its own commissioning more focussed on social impact.

And it can bring charities, with the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, into decision-making on local funding and action, whether that be where post-Brexit funding is spent and what it is spent on, or making sure key public services that work with charities develop and publish action plans for consulting and involving the voluntary sector.

But a new government should rightly demand that charities and funders across the board follow suit. All funders should be required to make their grant-giving data more accessible and open. Existing platforms like 360Giving have already shown how this can work. Government should also require charity trustees to report each year on what difference their organisation is making. Reporting of course needs to be proportionate to the size of a charity. But if a charity repeatedly fails to demonstrate any impact related to their core mission, the regulators should have the right to revoke its charitable status.

By sharing more data, focusing on what works and what doesn’t, and working more transparently together, charities and government have the opportunity to deliver even more effectively for the communities and voters who will go to the polls on 12th December. The challenge will be whether they will create the space to seize it.

Read the full manifesto here.

Brexit, the NHS and policing all feature heavily in the manifestos of the main parties. But what of the charity sector? - @NPCthinks new manifesto blog Click To Tweet